Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Playing chess

I walked into Highgate in stunning early spring sunshine this morning. It was a great thrill simply to be out and about. I stood in the queue at Costa Coffee, texting Philippa about the fact that Björn from ABBA had made a guest appearance at the Women of the World Festival. When I reached the front of the queue, I put my phone down and looked at the man behind the counter. "£2, please" he said. I looked behind me to see if he was talking to someone else. He thrust a tray towards me: "a pot of tea and a tap water," he said, "it's what you usually have." Bless him. He'd seen me in the queue and processed my order without my even having to ask! I was both hugely impressed and very touched. I'd actually only been in there twice last week, and on both occasions I was served by a lady. Heaven knows how he'd remembered my order. I think it's what comes from having a large moustache. People remember me as the one that looks like a walrus. If I shaved it off, I'm sure I'd instantly become invisible!

But back to Björn. Much as I admire anyone with the taste to book an ABBA for any form of event, I'm not altogether sure that a male songwriter is what you might imagine the Women of the World festival wanting to celebrate. Particularly a songwriter who walked out on his wife and made her sing a song about the divorce!

A man sat opposite me in the cafe playing himself at chess. He seemed perfectly happy, and I've subsequently realised how patronising I was being when I realised the sight was making me feel a little sad. I imagined, of course, that he was playing chess against himself because he had no friends, but then I realised that most of us spend hours by ourselves, reading or playing silly games online. What is the difference? The only difference is that he's not nuking himself with radio waves or whatever powers our mobile phones. He was reading a book called Cunningham Bandit, which appeared to be a sort of chess equivalent of the musician's dreaded "Rudiments of Theory."

I worked in the cafe without stopping for five straight hours, went to the gym, and then came home and worked until my ears felt like they were bleeding Nene water! I've reached the end stages of the composition, where the river flows out into the sea, which plainly has to be the moment when the entire ensemble plays together for the first time. Writing for such an enormous number of musicians is hideously daunting. I basically spent most of the day merely focussing on the brass band (a quarter of the ensemble) in a two-minute sequence. I counted the staves earlier. There are 45 of the blighters, and I'm presently throwing all the doubling instruments onto the same lines. Ludicrous.

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